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Preventing Seclusion – A peek into a classroom that’s working

I have the pleasure of working part-time in a high school newcomer program.  It’s not easy to promote inclusion and prevent their being isolated, especially with newcomers who are just beginning to learn English.  When I started in this position, I learned that a group of my students are in theater class, and my role would be to provide classroom support. I have to admit, I know how shy newcomers can be, so I wondered how that was going to work.  Now, I can tell you, it doesn’t just work.  They are flourishing.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what works for the students in this class.  Why are they so different in this class?  Risk takers.

Here’s what I’ve noticed.

Classroom Culture – This class is full of students who take risks.  It’s theater.  Students know they need to adapt and adjust to be successful.  The culture of theater is group success and the students do look out for each other.  Native English speaking students reach out to include the English learners.  They try their best to communicate and help.  More proficient English learners support the less proficient.  The teacher’s enthusiasm for the work is contagious.  She expects and encourages collaboration and cooperation. 

Expectations & Differentiation – In this class, everyone is included.  No excuses.  The teacher is flexible and knowledgeable about the students’ proficiency levels, knows their personalities, and sets reasonable expectations that push students a bit outside of their comfort zone.  And they do it. 

So what does differentiation look like in this classroom? 

When students were required to analyze a character from a play and present their work to the class, some presented just like their English speaking peers.  Others stood with the teacher and shared their visuals while the teacher read their writing aloud.  Others were somewhere in between.  No one was excused.  Everyone stood.  It was a safe, supported experience to build the students’ confidence in being in front of the group.

When students were required to memorize a monologue and record themselves, the teacher carefully selected the texts and assigned roles with less complex language to the less proficient students.  Some students completed the original assignment.  Others were recorded reading the script, as memorizing that much English was a bit too difficult.  Those who struggle with literacy were able to read side by side with a more proficient partner.  Everyone submitted a video.  As the teachers, we tell students that if they are concerned about an assignment, they need to speak up with a suggestion of how they might modify it and still be included.

What warmed my heart the most?  All students were assigned groups to memorize and perform a skit.  The groupings were well thought out, including supportive native English speakers with the beginning English learners.  The parts were assigned to students with their proficiency in mind.  Some had multiple lines which pushed their comfort zone.  Others had one line.  Other had a few words.  Everyone participated.  Everyone got on the stage in front of others.  Everyone had fun.  Everyone also had a LOT of reading practice at a level they could follow as they practiced that script over and over and over.

It’s my favorite part of the day.  It reminds me every day that our students can do a lot and it IS possible to include newcomers and beginning English proficiency students in academics.  It just takes a little flexibility, high expectations, and a willingness to make it work. 

Next week:  more ideas to prevent seclusion……vlog style


Blog author, Kelly Reider, is the founder of English Learner Portal.  She currently works with high school newcomers and provides professional learning workshops both online and across the country.

Want more professional learning around developing language and content in your classroom?  Take a look at our online course, "A Content Teacher's Guide to English Learner Success".  This course is perfect for those just getting started with English learners and is open for enrollment.


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